3 Common Parenting Mistakes That Demotivate Your Child

10 kids on a log. 3 decide to jump off.  

How many are left?

The answer is 10.


Because deciding to do something is NOT the same as doing it.

Kids decide to do things every day, ie: tidy up toys, clean up rooms, do school work but we know it does not mean they have the motivation to take action.

Motivation without doubt is the source behind awesome things that we have created or experienced. It is the drive behind kids meeting their personal and professional goals in life and building a rock solid self esteem in the  process. It’s what allows kids to live the life of their dreams.

But what happens when kids aren’t motivated to do anything?

As a parent, perhaps a slight panic and frustration sets in. You wonder if your kids will actually use their  talent and drive to stick with something till they get good at it?  What if they never figure out what they’re passionate about and just…give up? You may question, “What kind of parent am I,  to raise a child who doesn’t know how to persevere towards goals?”

I’ve been researching and testing ideas about motivation on my own kids and others for years.  What I’m about to share with you is both surprising and counter-intuitive. I’m about to tell you why the way we’ve historically approached motivation with our kids, is  fundamentally flawed.

First, think about how you currently motivate your child?

Perhaps,  like me, you’ve start with an energized Anthony Robbin’s-ish speech. I personally tend to go overboard, and offer a fire-walking, adrenaline pumping, hand waving, positive thinking mental stance that eventually spurs them into movement.

Which leads me to the 2 main ways parents often their motivate children.

External Motivator #1 -Your Voice.  Getting louder and louder till you’re practically yelling across the house, which only leaves the kids afraid of Mommy/Daddy and keeps parents frustrated and slightly hoarse.

External Motivator #2 -Carrot and Stick.  Rewards and punishment, which according to economists from MIT and The London School of Economics, in almost all cases don’t work. The idea is “if you DO this, then you GET this.” This concept may work in some circumstances but it’s been found to often do harm and have the reverse effect.

Daniel Pink says “there is a clear mismatch between what we actually do and what science knows about rewards.”  All the noteworthy studies have proven that rewards lead to worse performance, eventually. This is one of the most important findings in social science yet we refuse to believe it because we still use reward systems everywhere, especially with our kids.  Same goes for punishment.

This means, when we bribe or threaten our kids, we are not really winning at parenting.

Here are some examples:

  • Get your reading done and I’ll let you watch T.V.
  • Get all A’s and I’ll buy you a < insert bribe>
  • Get your room tidy or you can’t go out

We may initially get the outcome we desire but it’s not a sustained shift in behavior.

So, do we just get louder and sweeten the carrot or sharpen the stick?


We need a whole new approach.  I’m about to tell you the fundamental flaw with what we’ve believed about motivation.

We feel if I Am Motivated…I will do ‘X’

In this situation, motivation precedes the action. I am motivated to put my toys away or motivated to do my homework therefore, I will put my toys away or do my homework.

Truth is, Action Must Precede Motivation.

So when kids don’t want to clean up their toys/do homework, which to them, seems like a herculean task, we need to get them to make any small movement or action in that direction, meaning, get them to start cleaning up some of it, even if it’s 10% and wait for the motivation to kick in.

So, by now you may be wondering…how do I get them to do even 10% so that motivation can kick in?

Here it is folks.  Motivation is a function of relationships. If you want to motivate a demotivated child then you need to build the relationship with your child. When you make a child feel compelled to do something or do something they are unwilling or unprepared to do, they push back, which can lead to threats, labels, arguments and bribes.

You cannot force change and action on your child. It doesn’t matter how much sense it makes or how important the thing you want them to do is.  Motivation is correlated with how much safety, acceptance and empowerment your child experiences when they are around you.

So that means if you find yourself picking on, arguing, opposing, contesting, disputing, debating, and criticizing their point of view, you will kill the communication you want between you and your child, before it has a chance to flourish.

An open, non-judgmental conversation about the issue is the key step in the motivational process. This can be difficult because you want to teach, to instruct, and to guide. But if your child is not open to your teaching, instruction, or guidance, they will not hear you. What might create this openness is their experience of you both listening to them and accepting what they have to say.

For example, recently when my son did not want to do his piano lessons, we utilized this skill set. We had worked diligently on building an open environment for our son to express his frustration and anger without fear, guilt or judgement, which allowed him to express his objection without consequence.

We listened, we attuned to him and validated his feelings first. One  way to create this is to let your child express anything and engage without any criticism, evaluation or challenge. He did not feel compelled, or forced, his hands were not bound and he was not left powerless.

We then asked if he could just play a bit of the lesson, the part that he wanted to play.

A few minutes later, I saw my husband in another room while our son continued to play the piano on his own for a while thereafter.

Action had preceded motivation.

There  are many ways to develop this kind of relationship but it means building our emotional intelligence, which is to say we must manage our own emotions and be able to asses & influence the emotions of those around us.  

This is an art form and one of the highest leverage skill sets to build because when we build our EQ, we get to up our game and teach our kids by example…..and they become unstoppable.

If you want to know more on how to build this skill in spades, check out Ninja Parenting-For Confident Successful Happy Kids where I cover exactly how to do it, just click here.

To Your Child’s Success,


p.s:  Was this article useful to you?  If so, tell me what your experience has been with motivating kids?  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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